Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

ISBN: 0716727188
ISBN 13: 9780716727187
By: Robert M. Sapolksy Robert M. Sapolksy

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About this book

A Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and CopingCombining cutting edge research with a healthy dose of humor and practical advice, Sapolsky explains how prolonged stress causes or intensifies mental afflictions.

Reader's Thoughts

J. Erickson

This is where I really get “geeky” or over the top excited! This is a classic – by that I mean this is a text book that is easy to read, filled with information regarding the brain, autonomic system, fight, flight responses, stress, and it all is easy to read, understand and fits nicely with psychopathology courses I have taught over the years to graduate students. Further, this is one of the only books I've read where the footnotes have note, and these notes are so interesting that I need to make an effort to read the book first, re-read the foot notes and notes, and then took notes to use for teaching. Clearly it's not Dr. Sapolsky's first day on the job! Further, while this is an older version, the enclosed material is still applicable today. Excellent book and highly recommended!


Robert Sapolsky does a fantastic job of detailing every nuance of stress in relation to physiology. I will never look at a glucocorticoid the same way again. Although the text did get fairly complex at times, Sapolsky used real-life studies, examples, and metaphors to explain the more technical content. He also did a great job integrating the psychology of stress. In fact, the book was very balanced in regard to physiological and psychological interactions with the stress response and various "stress diseases." Finally, Sapolsky was able to wrap everything up with sound, realistic advice on stress management. Honestly, his summary provided all anyone really needs to know about stress reduction and prevention of diseases related to stress. Overall, the text was slow in some spots but the book was very enjoyable and educational.


Right, I finished it maybe a month and a half ago, and never got around to writing a review. I'm going to correct that since this book deserves one.The book starts out describing what stress is. In a nutshell, the body's stress-reponse is what the body does when there is a physical emergency (a lion, for the zebra). In this context the stress-response makes sense. Repairing damage, fighting diseases, digesting food, all of that can wait until the lion is no longer a threat. Then the response can stop, and all those activities put to the side can resume.Which doesn't happen when you live in an environment of chronic stressors.With this setup, the next few chapters go into the technical details of the stress-response. How it's activated, the role that important hormones play, and what changes occur in your body, and how your body goes from there back to its normal state. And when it doesn't, that's where the problems start.The book's has a peculiar style that I enjoy. It tackles a serious, unhappy subject with a light touch and fun to read prose. It's also littered with funny anecdotes that help to lighten the mood. But there are serious moments as well. The second to last chapter that examines poverty is the most powerful part of the book.If you've ever wondered about stress at all, this is an excellent place to start. It's detailed, fun to read and it makes you think.

Nick Weeks

Well researched book. Sapolsky, who I am a big fan of, explains why certain types of stresses like long work days end up having more serious negative effects on your physiology than do other types of stress such as a lion chasing after you. Sure the lion stresses you out then and there but a week from now your bodily functions won't still be affected by it. My one beef with this book is that it doesn't give you much in the way of how to handle stress. I felt somewhat more stressed after reading reading this book because I finally had a good understanding of all of its negative effects but still didn't know what to do about it....


This was my text for my Health Psychology class. The only complaint I have about this book is that sometimes it is hard to follow because there are no bolded words or explanations on the side, like ANY other book relating to science would have.But it is very funny, very interesting, very well-researched, and very thought-provoking. Sapolsky has a way of explaining complicated concepts in an approachable way. You will learn how to be aware of, be knowledgable about, and better attack the stress in your life!

Charles Gallagher

In Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, acclaimed biologist Robert Sapolsky combines humor and science to deliver fascinating information about stress and the many diseases caused by stress. As far as nonfiction goes, this was the most entertaining and informative book I have read. This book would be great for anyone interested in learning the science behind stress and it's effects on the body while enjoying themselves.


Excellent book about the body's stress response written in a fun and engaging style. This book is so well written that even someone with absolutely no background in medicine or biology could understand this neat little find. I've even used quotes out of this book for my clients--it's really that bite sized and engaging. Must read. Probably the best academic book disguised as popular non-fiction I've ever read.

Melissa Hefferlin

I discovered this scientist on a National Geographic film about stress, Silent Killer or something like that. The film I highly recommend. So I sought out the books on the topic. For me, the material is a few clicks higher on the scientifically-detailed chart that I enjoy for recreational reading, but it is an excellent book. I enjoyed it in small chunks. It is highly informative, and displays the author's passion for the research. The effects of stress are truly fascinating, and current knowledge on the subject is presented here with passion and detail.


How much fighting-or-fleeing have you had to do lately? For most of us, probably not much. In this very readable but thoroughly researched book, Sapolsky makes the point that a) we need a stress response but b) if you repeatedly turn on your stress response or you can't turn it off when it isn't needed, your response has the potential to increase the risk of disease with measurable effects on memory, and many of our organ systems. The author is self-deprecating and at times really funny, and after the first chapter you'll barely notice the names of all the hormones. I thought there was a fair bit of animal torture going on with all the research (stressing rats and other animals to see what they do) but he is only quoting what has already been done, and he does have the grace to say at one point that he wasn't entirely happy with some of the experiments. The final part of the book is devoted to exploring why some people are good at dealing with stress, finding out what they are doing right, and making suggestions for the rest of us. And you will find out why zebras don't get ulcers, in case that was a burning question.


To summarize: Adrenaline is a DEATH drug. It's designed to keep you alive for the next 15 seconds, or to ease your death. As such, it's necessarily thriftless. If you can survive to the 16th second only by losing a limb, it's worthwhile to sacrifice the limb. Otherwise, it's wasteful and disabling.Zebras don't get ulcers because they (mostly) only release stress hormones 'in the event of an actual emergency'. Humans deliberately evoke stress on an everyday basis, and the reckless decisions the body makes under the influence of stress hormones, too often, results in the loss of limbs, supression of the immune system, etc.Recommendation: don't pull the fire alarm unless there's a real fire.


I encountered a link to a speech by Sapolsky on Pharyngula, I think, and was immediately engaged by his speaking style. His books, or this one at least, is similarly easy to get into, and manages to discuss topics of fair complexity in an incredibly approachable way. He's clearly aware that his book might be read by a wide range of audiences, and strives to provide something for everyone. I'll definitely be working my way through the rest of his catalog.The book is fascinating, too, although as he notes many times, thinking about and addressing stress is difficult, because trying to act to reduce stress can itself be stressful. As he elucidates what's currently known about the links between stress and disease, a lot of interesting things emerge, some of which are essentially throwaway trivia, like the idea that anti-depressant medication takes a while to work on people that are clinically depressed because of the physiological nature of depression; he doesn't really spell it out, but the obvious corollary is that is someone takes AD medication and instantly feels better, they're probably not actually depressed. This insight was immensely powerful to me in this over-prescribed age of ours.


some people might not be a fan of all the science of hormones and neurotransmitters, etc. etc.. so if you don't like having to check out the whys and whats of what the body does, this might be a bit irritating to read since there's a lot to slog through in that sense. having said that, i definitely found it to be quite interesting and a fun read. there's a good mix of humor through out the book. overall, i enjoyed it and i feel like i learned a fair bit. it didn't go into as much detail about some things (like depression and dealing with it, how stress reactions predict personalities, etc.) as i would have liked or even as much as i expected. granted, he could probably go on forever about the details of those subjects, so i digress. a fair amount of it could be seen as 'common sense', and i kinda feel like his coping methods are pretty logical and nothing that's revelatory or impressive in the sense of "hey, i should totally try that", but nonetheless, i enjoyed reading it and i do feel more knowledgeable for having done so.


Enlightening and full of humor. Complex pathways of stress mechanisms are untangled and presented in a simple yet captivating way.

Chris Gard

Brilliant book, very insightful on the structures and sequences of stress, stress-responsiveness and consequential diseases and pathology related to socioeconomic status, perception of situations and broad inclusions of outcomes of certain upbringings.Loss of a rating would be to Sapolsky's almost loss of train of thought on a lot of topics, some metaphors are sporadic and unrelated, yet others are almost graceful in their applicability. However, in a lot of instances in his writings, he paints a very clear and concise picture when demonstrating various scenarios depicting stressful situations and the variables of outcomes, from as far as transient stress and it's coinciding joy (or pleasure), to chronic stress and the proceeding disease and mental dysfunctions.It is both humorous and intellectual, and boasts to be an item of utter genius.4/5 would read again.

Chris Herdt

This book is a good introduction to stress and its effects on physiology and psychology (Nicola's area of expertise). Although it is written for a lay audience, I often got the feeling it was written for a lay audience of primarily MDs.By the end of the book, you will feel like you and epinephrine, norepinephrine, and glucocorticoids are all old friends--but in spite of the terminology, it is really an easy read and full of good humor and interesting anecdotes (e.g. hyenas are very peculiar).Here is a quote, taken out of context, that I enjoyed:"Every child cannot grow up to be president; it turned out that merely by holding hands and singing folk songs we couldn't end all war, and hunger does not disappear just by visualizing a world without it....Would that it were so. And shame on those who would sell this view."You may not like all of his opinions. Sapolsky is an unapologetic atheist, but appears to have a high opinion of many religious people. He also speaks frankly about sex. He also believes in animal testing, although he thinks that some past tests went too far.

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